This year's Thanksgiving travel nightmares got an early start on Monday when a New York-bound Amtrak train carrying over 200 people derailed in South Carolina. While no one was seriously injured, passengers had to wait for about eight hours in the early morning chill — and only two of the nine train cars had heating after the accident. Then, busses arrived to ferry stranded travelers to their destinations further north.
Unfortunately, the derailment isn't the only sign of the coming travel apocalypse, that yearly media ritual of investigating and amplifying the inconveniences and headaches of one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. According to AAA, 43.4 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, defined as between Wednesday and Sunday. (Don't forget that Thursday is also the first day of Hanukkah.) And while Thanksgiving travel is never a pleasant experience, a badly-timed winter storm moving across the country is promising to make things just a little bit worse than usual.
An already deadly winter storm has already moved across much of the country in the last week, and will probably hit the northeastern U.S. on Wednesday afternoon, the Zero Hour for travel debacles. The Weather Channel is in already in Named Storm Mode for what they've termed Winter Storm Boreas, although the storm's impact on the East is expected to be slightly less than first feared. But the eastern coast, including the busy northeastern corridor from D.C. to Boston, will probably be mired in a mix of rain, sleet, and freezing rain from Tuesday into Wednesday afternoon, with some snow predicted for Wednesday in the interior northeast.
The good news is that weather forecasters aren't precisely certain what will happen in the coming days — the headline-grabbing "Boreas" could turn out to be a run-of-the-mill rainy day for many east coast travelers. And it is incredibly likely that the skies will be clear on Thanksgiving itself, leaving as clear a path as one can get for same-day travel.
However, the storm already laid out one major complication for long-distance holiday travel as it spread across the West, and it's still only Monday. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport posted over 300 cancelled flights this weekend, with 180 more flight delays and cancellations popping up on Monday morning. Other airports through the Western half of the country were also posting cancellations, starting a ripple effect that will reach airports all over America. And that's a trend that will continue as the storm system moves east.